Buckets and spades of nostalgia
Melbourne’s St Kilda is full of holiday charm
MY childhood holidays in England were spent at Brighton Beach. Year after year, we stayed at the same boarding house, even seated for fish-and-chips suppers by the permanently aproned hostess Mrs Brown at our ‘‘usual’’ table by a bay window with a view of the promenade and the pier.
There were deckchairs for hire, striped canes of teethcracking Brighton Rock and Punch and Judy shows. What nostalgia, then, to discover the Melbourne suburb of St Kilda, just 6km southeast of the city, has a long esplanade, a heritage pier and a real seaside character, albeit shiny and sophisticated these days, with chic cafes, shops and lodgings.
On a recent weekend, I stay at Novotel Melbourne St Kilda in a spacious top-floor room with a wide view of Port Phillip Bay. This hotel marks its 20th birthday this year and stands on the site of the invitingly named Wattle Path Dance Saloon & Cafe, which opened in 1923.
It proves an excellent base, within easy striking distance of attractions such as the shops of Acland and Fitzroy street and Luna Park, which celebrates its 100th birthday this year. As I head towards Acland Street, I hear kids squealing with joy from the ferris wheel and the scenic railway. Later a local tells me the ghost train is still the all-time Luna Park favourite; how reassuring that some things just don’t change.
It turns out to be a bustling weekend with brisk winds charging in off the bay and far too much good food, especially at Circa, The Prince after one or two signature cocktails in the adjoining bar (No 8 comes with such clever things as Vietnamese mint, clarified lemon juice and lime marmalade).
There’s live music and marvellous pizzas at Republica in the Sea Baths complex, and who wouldn’t want to front up again next morning to its courtyard for french toast with raisin brioche, maple syrup and poached fig ice cream. Breakfast is a treat, too, in retro milk bar style at Cowderoy’s Dairy in St Kilda West.
Along Acland Street, well-known for its Europeanstyle cake shops, do not miss the plum sponge, poppyseed slice and flashback atmosphere at Monarch Cakes, with its jolly claim of ‘‘exquisite since 1934’’. The Esplanade Hotel (known hereabouts as the Espy) has been going since 1878 and is famed as a live performance venue, with the likes of Paul Kelly and John Farnham on stage over the years, and stand-up comics such as Dave Hughes and Rove McManus. The SBS One music trivia show RocKwiz is filmed in the hotel’s Gershwin Room, and St Kilda streets and apartment blocks (as well as the 1970s bowling club) were backdrops for the television series The Secret Life of Us.
The St Kilda Esplanade Market has been in business on Sunday mornings since 1970 and there are about 150 stalls strung in a convivial line, with crafted goods ranging from puppets and soaps to retro Hawaiian-print cushions and clothing.
Below, on the Lower Esplanade, is the looming 1927-built Palais Theatre, where upcoming headliners include (retro alert) the Village People in November.
There is lots more to do next visit, including an Italian feast at Cafe di Stasio, perhaps a dip in the warmed sea baths and lunch at St Kilda Pier Kiosk, rebuilt in 2006 after a fire, but a fine replica of the original. I reckon from the end of the pier, if I squint, St Kilda, with its holiday charm and circling seagulls, could be looking more and more like Brighton Beach. Susan Kurosawa was a guest of St Kilda Tourism Association.
Melbourne’s St Kilda Pier and pavilion-style kiosk